Inspired by flesh-eating horrors of the silver screen, it’s no surprise that this collaborative effort from Lawrence English and Liz Harris is so visually evocative itself. Outside of the opening noise burst – their aural take on the familiar ‘turning’ sequence in just about every zombie film I gather – it’s all somber drones and beautiful dread executed to perfection.
12 : Ed Askew : For The World
Ed Askew is a name I’ve recognized – pretty hard one to forget – but never taken the time to investigate. That changed when good friend and man of impeccable taste Jerry DeCicca told me he was producing his latest. My curiosity was finally piqued and was justly rewarded. The finest moments (the two songs in the video above are certainly among the best) are among the greatest in contemporary song craft, and even when the album gets a little too twee, it is never misses the mark by much.
11 : Roly Porter : Life Cycle of A Massive Star
A concept album about a celestial body that manages to completely avoid kosmiche cliché? Yes, please. The title is both remarkably accurate and a bit misleading in that regard. An array of pulses, thumps and skittish tones guide us through the early stages of the Life Cycle before it drones into maturity and eventually goes Giant. Synthetic and symphonic, this one is a dense undertaking.
10 : Sylvain Chauveau : Kogetsudai
The electronics on Kogetsudai are exceptionally crisp, spatial and minimal, a trio that I absolutely adore. Paired with Chauveau’s intense baritone vocals, they become absolutely otherworldly. This album certainly isn’t for everyone – and it’s not hard to imagine people outright hating it – but I cannot get enough of it. In fact, the only downside is its brevity. I want more.
09 : Circuit Des Yeux : Overdue
I am perhaps a bit biased towards the overwhelming Overdue. This fall, I shared a handful of bills with Ms. Haley Fohr and heard a number of these songs performed in an utterly jaw-dropping fashion each night. That said, the record holds up on its own. One dark heavy-hitter after another, I would call the album an emotional rollercoaster, but that implies it goes up at some point. Emotional base-jumping seems more appropriate.
08 : John Tilbury & Oren Ambarchi : The Just Reproach
When I bought this album the proprietor of the shop confessed bewilderment upon its release. He was in attendance at the concert in question and was pretty surprised the exceptionally quiet set could be captured with any amount of fidelity. Indeed the stray cough and chair shuffling definitely make their obligatory appearances, but the overall quality of the recording is as astounding as the performance. Tilbury leads the way and Ambarchi’s restrained electronic accompaniments are absolutely stellar, constantly heightening.
07 : Olivia Block : Karren
When field recordings, electronics and orchestras come together in the right hands, magnificent things are bound to happen. And there aren’t many hands more capable than Block’s. Chaotic and serene elements jostle for dominance across the pair of side-long self-referential pieces, eventually striking a delicate balance in the waning moments. It’s a journey, this one, and a meditation, an electro-acoustic marvel.
06 : Body/Head : Coming Apart
My love of Sonic Youth is no secret. And as this is the best thing to come out of the SY camp in damn near a decade (I’m going with ‘since Rather Ripped’ here) it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I am all about it. Drawing on the power of singularity, both the lyrics and guitar phrases entrench themselves, refraining until the point has long been made beyond clear. Individually monolithic, the tracks collectively reveal exceptional depth. The narrowing of scope benefits the album immensely.
05 : Jim Haynes : The Wires Cracked
As apt a title as Roly Porter’s, this album truly is a series of wires cracking. Cracking in the most glorious way, of course. Field recordings are processed and layered beyond recognition, distorting and ‘rusting’ (a term Mr. Haynes is fond of) along the way, before being reassembled into one of the finer noise documents in recent memory. Northern California is overflowing with talented sound artists, and Haynes has been behind the scenes (Helen Scarsdale Society, 23Five) more often more than not. Hopefully the Mego attention will pull him even further out of the shadows.
04 : Deafheaven : Sunbather
Probably the second most talked about album this year (behind Yeezus (in circles I pay attention to anyway)), and I don’t think I have much else to add to the discussion. I will just say that this was an early contender for album of the year, but it couldn’t hold up against strong competition. I hope their next album is even more shoegaze-y and even more people complain that it isn’t black metal.
03 : Joe Panzner & Greg Stuart : Dystonia Duos
I omitted Panzner’s Clearing, Polluted from my list last year due to our close personal and professional relationship, but have no such familiarity with Mr. Stuart, so fair game this time around. This album’s density and complexity are still unraveling. Its percussive and electronic elements are indecipherable from one another and as far as I can tell most attempts end up confusing one for the other. A challenging listen for sure, but and infinitely rewarding one.
02 : Locrian : Return to Annihilation
I love that an album that is clearly such a giant step forward for Locrian has such an amazingly regressive title. They may not have gone into full on obliteration mode, but the band clearly whittled away previous excess and pulled its core to the forefront, coming across as a completely different, more honest, version of itself in the process. This sounds like the band Locrian was meant to be. And that band is awesome.
01 : Wrekmeister Harmonies : You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me
Album of the year by an enormous landslide. No offense to the other 12 albums listed here, or anything else that came out this year, but nothing came even remotely close to touching this. A single 38-minute piece that starts with the simplest of drones, swells slowly over the first 22 minutes and balloons into scathing overture before returning to its original form, You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me is an album of truly epic proportions. I can’t help but think of Charles Mingus when listening. J.R. Robinson: Metal Mingus.